History of Cryptography

Cryptography is the study of ciphers and codes that plays a significant role in securing and protecting data. We can also find its trails in the ancient Egyptian civilization. Hence, it will not be an exaggeration to conclude that the modern encryption method results from a long and unprecedented history of evolution.

From secret conversations carved on stones to digital signatures and hashes, it revolutionizes telecommunication and technology by providing data protection, privacy, and integrity. The article glances at the history of the evolution of cryptographic practices.

Primitive Cryptographic Practices

Egyptian Hieroglyphs

The most primitive instances of cryptographic practices existed 3900 years ago in the form of non-standard hieroglyphs. Egyptian Hieroglyphs were the formal alphabet used for written communication in Egyptian civilization. It contained pictograms with intricate designs and symbols. Those hieroglyphs existed at the tomb of an Egyptian noble called Khnumhotep. The driving force behind the utilization of these practices is to enhance the linguistic appeal.

Greek Instances

Other noticeable applications in ancient times were found in the Spartan military. The purpose of utilization of the transposition cipher is said to be vague. According to various resources, those methods were for authentication, secrecy, and to avoid any bad omens.

Another technique was invented to write code by wrapping the message parchment against a specific size and volume cylinder. That would make the message undecipherable until wrapped around a cylinder of similar dimensions.

Primitive Steganography

Carving the message on the tables covered with wax and tattooing the information on the shaved heads of slaves are the most well-known examples of steganography.

The Classical Caesar Cipher

Classic Caesar cipher is one of the most modern cryptographic practices of ancient times. Julius Caesar, the Roman monarch, used these simple shift ciphers to communicate secretly with his military and noblemen. The key would be the number of shifts made to cipher or decipher the code.

Renaissance and the Medieval Cryptography

Even though considerable advancements were made in the middle ages, the substitution cipher was a standard in cryptography. Cryptography became increasingly essential in secure communication. Cryptanalysis, the science of cracking ciphers, caught the attention of scientists in the middle ages and soon became a subject of great interest.

First Decryption in 800 AD

Decryption was made possible for the first time in 800 AD by Al Kindi, an Arab mathematician. He introduced the idea of frequency analysis that made the substitution cipher vulnerable to decryption. This successful attempt made people keener to learn and develop more systematic and professional methods to decrypt messages.

The Polyalphabetic Cipher

A solution to counter Al-Kindi’s decryption method was proposed in 1465 by Leone Alberti. He developed a polyalphabetic cipher that was hard to decrypt using conventional decryption techniques. This method uses two different alphabets for encryption. One alphabet is to write the original message. The second alphabet is used for substitution and mapping against the original message to create an indecipherable secret code.

The polyalphabetic cipher with the substitution ciphers combined made the messages substantially secure. It was pointless to use frequency analysis decryption on the encrypted message without complete knowledge of alphabets.

Binary Encoding in Renaissance

The renaissance period witnessed some modern methods of information encryption using binary encoding in 1623. This method was introduced by a renowned polymath Sir Francis Bacon.

Modernization in Recent Centuries

With progressive advancements on the record, cryptographic studies observed a breakthrough in 1970 by Sir Jefferson. Although never built by him, his idea of the cipher wheel was considered a mastermind of that age. This cipher was founded on 36 wheels of the alphabet resulting in a very complex encoding.

The cipher wheel was well-acknowledged in World War II. It rendered the basis for encryption techniques in the US military for secure communications.

The Enigma Machine

A renowned example of analog cryptography is from World War II, called the Enigma machine. It enhances the idea of wheel ciphers.  In the Second World War, Axis powers employed it using rotating wheels to hide the message that made it impossible to decipher without an enigma machine.

However, with the advent of computers, decryption was made easy. The decryption is also considered a vital component of the Allied victory in the Second World War.

Cryptographic Practices in the Era of Computers

With the advent and the modernization of technology, cryptography became a necessary part of communication. After these advancements, 128-bit encryption is a basic standard that is way more reliable than any medieval or ancient practices,

In 1990, the invention of quantum cryptography revolutionized the history of cryptography. It rendered the practices matchless strength and reliability for the employment of secrecy, integrity, and authenticity in confidential communications.

Furthermore, cryptocurrencies were made possible with the help of modern encryptions. Cryptocurrencies employ several practices that include hashing, digital signatures, as well as public-key encryption. The purpose of utilizing these techniques is to ensure the security and authenticity of transactions and data stored on the blockchain.


The article gives an overview of cryptography history and how it has evolved over 4000 years. However, with the advent of modern or quantum cryptography and ever-evolving threats with the dire need for data security, the cryptographic evolution is unlikely to stop.

About the author

Usama Azad

A security enthusiast who loves Terminal and Open Source. My area of expertise is Python, Linux (Debian), Bash, Penetration testing, and Firewalls. I’m born and raised in Wazirabad, Pakistan and currently doing Undergraduation from National University of Science and Technology (NUST). On Twitter i go by @UsamaAzad14